Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

Life Is a Dream
EgoPo Classic Theater
Review by Rebecca Rendell

Also see Rebecca's reviews of A Man for All Seasons and Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical

Anthony Crosby, Lexi Thammavong, Kishia Nixon
and Jessy Gruver

Photo by Kylie Westerbeck
Director Brenna Geffers' Life Is a Dream, currently making its world premier at EgoPo Classic Theater, is an immensely ambitious project. Geffers and Felipe Vergara's adaptation of Pedro Calderón de la Barca's Spanish Golden Age masterpiece highlights the parallels between Barca's seminal play, the recent sociopolitical unrest in the United States, and the protests happening in Colombia, while simultaneously invoking the format and themes of classic Greek drama. Classic elements are richly layered with post-modern techniques and aesthetics for a surreal, thought-provoking experience. It could easily become muddled, but Geffers and her team achieve a powerful unified work from this unexpected mosaic of influences. Riveting to watch and impossible to stop thinking about, Life Is a Dream is a unique, provocative, and exciting achievement.

Tired of dealing with warring factions vying for the power of succession within his kingdom, King Basilio of Poland (Keith Conallen) reveals that he has a living son. Prince Segismundo (Vanessa Sterling) has been kept isolated in a cave all his life because a prophecy delivered before his birth predicts he will bring disaster to Poland. Basilio has a plan to test Segismundo and stop the infighting. He will drug Segismundo, bring him to court, and observe his actions. If he proves himself worthy of his inheritance, then Segismundo will be king and his cousins Astolfo (Anthony Crosby) and Estrella (Emma Johnson) will lose their claim to the throne. If he proves himself unworthy, Segismundo will be drugged again, returned to his cave, and told it was all a dream.

In Geffers and Vergara's adaptation, the tale of Prince Segismundo is told as a story within a story. Lex Thammavong plays Rosaura (Rosaura's original plot line is largely left out of this version) as a mysterious storyteller who comes upon a cave filled with people who are blindfolded and bound. Limited in sight and understanding, they are just like the people Plato talks about in his famous "Allegory of the Cave." As Rosaura spins her tale, the prisoners become the characters in her story, periodically morphing back into prisoners to talk about what has happened and what they dream will happen to the characters, and then morphing into character again. Rosaura and the prisoners also function as a Greek chorus.

Awkwardly distrustful one moment and violently combative the next, Sterling is genuinely disturbing as Prince Segismundo. Their intensity is vital to the success of the play, as is Lex Thammavong's Delphic turn as storyteller Rosaura. Thammavong exudes sparkling dark energy. Conallen is perfect as exhausted and obstinate King Basilio. Rachel O'Hanlon Rodriguez is hilarious as the much-abused Clarin. There is real sensuality and brutality in Johnson's depiction of the King's niece Estrella, and her run-ins with the always smooth Crosby are gratifying.

A truly multidisciplinary production, the choreography, sets, costumes, lights, and sound work together to create the avant-garde aesthetic of Life Is a Dream. J. Dominic Chason's lighting design is fantastic, creating shapes and shadows that seem impossibly large for the intimate space. Kyra Zapf's creative costume designs are clever, uncomplicated, and well executed. There is a special synergy between Thom Weaver and Alondra Santos-Castillo's simple, well-executed set design and Hassan Syed's dreamlike choreography.

There is risk in taking a post-modern approach to a classic. Not everyone will be comfortable with the production's uncanny blurring of the lines between the central narrative, the meta-story, and the audience itself. Some may feel frustrated when the story becomes paradoxical. Even the opening chanting and singing has the hazy confusion of a dream. It takes a leap of faith to get past the initial disorientation, but it is a transcendent journey for those who want to jump in.

EgoPo Classic Theater's world premiere adaptation of Life Is a Dream runs through March 27, 2022, at Theatre Exile, 1340 S. 13th St. in South Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit or call 267-273-1414.

Segismundo: Vanessa Sterling
King Basilio: Keith Conallen
Clotaldo: Jessy Gruver
Estrella: Emma Johnson
Dreamer: Kishia Nixon
Clarin: Rachel O'Hanlon Rodriguez
Rosaura: Lex Thammavong
Astolfo: Anthony Crosby

Adaptor/Director: Brenna Geffers
Adaptor: Felipe Vergara
Choreographer: Hassan Syed
Set Designers: Thom Weaver & Alondra Santos-Castillo
Costume Designer: Kyra Zapf
Lighting Designer: J. Dominic Chacon
Sound Designer: Chris Sannino
Properties: Dane Eissler
Scene Shop: Flannel & Hammer
Master Electrician: Julia Franco
Production Manager: Dane Eissler